RAVE CULTURE Here's a classic San Francisco rave story for you. First the official legend: "In the spring of 1991, a small, brave crew of acid house seekers set sail from southeast England in search of adventure. San Francisco was the destination. They made their mark under the Golden Gate Bridge at Baker Beach with the first in a six-year run of wild and lawless Full Moon parties." And now the party reality: the crew set up during heavy fog after touching down from Britain — and at least two of Wicked's four members, Garth and Jenö, had absolutely no freaking clue that they were beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.
"We Brits were virgins to that beach," Garth told me. "We were all enjoying a psychedelic dance when the sun started to come up, and the fog peeled back to reveal the bridge above our heads, lit up like a spaceship! We were hooked from that moment on. The decks were set up on a blanket on the sand. No table. Walkman speakers made makeshift monitors. One well-prepared gay friend improvised a cardboard dancefloor for himself and went about his vogueing like he was back at the Endup or Paradise Garage."
The Wicked Brit saucer, launched from the illustrious Tonka Sound System renegade rave base, touched down on our shores at a moment when the Bay Area psychedelic sound and spirit was flagging. The West Coast underground party scene was being commercialized into the kind of slick, infantile, overproduced spectacles that unfortunately came to define rave in many '90s people's minds. And the music was veering from true basement soul to Big Bird carnival woo-woo — not that there was anything too awful about that, at the time it was fresh. But a pagan squadron of prog-rocky, deep acid house and baggy beats lovers setting up on a beach was a blast of fresh air.
Update on the Wicked crew: Almost all have benefited from our wonderful current dance music moment that values historical broad-mindedness over genre lockstep. (Really, the era-roving Wicked DJs have never sounded better than right now). Garth now lives in Los Angeles and has been releasing a steady stream of re-edits and remixes on his two labels, and through his King & Hound project with beloved local disco archivist James Glass. Former punk protestor and anarchist bookstore haunter Jenö plays live acid house every first Saturday at 222 Hyde, broadcasts the weekly "Noise from the Void" radio show (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. at www.90hz.org ), and is codirecting a documentary on the social implications of San Francisco's early rave scene, due out this summer. Thomas is in New York City as one-half of the awesome Rub N Tug production team and owns Whatever We Want Records. And Markie? The dude is and always will be Markie, party legend.
On the eve of the full moon Wicked: 20 Years of Disco Glory reunion party (the name is a cheeky play on one of Garth's already cheeky dance floor hits), I talked to Garth, Jenö, and Thomas over e-mail.
SFBG It seems like a boatload of Brits emigrated here in the '90s and had a huge impact on the party scene — in fact, they're still coming. Is there something special about San Francisco that draws you guys?
Garth I think a lot of Brits followed us here after they heard what was going on in the Bay Area, the freedom. The U.K. party scene was outlawed by Thatcher's conservative government when it passed the criminal justice bill, which made it illegal for groups of more than 10 people to congregate while listening to repetitive beats. So there was a kind of party exodus: trance heads went to India (specifically Goa), other Brits went to Thailand, Australia, and Spain in search of a more fun life. San Francisco is particularly appealing to Brits because the climate suits us. It's never too hot or too cold, and there's a good dose of fog. It's very liberal, the architecture is Victorian, it's by the ocean with hills and those trams — plus great food and a strong, self-sustaining music scene.
Thomas It's poetic, cosmopolitan, and charming without being European: we like that.
SFBG You definitely did bring a pagan spirit with you — not just with the full moon and witchy Wicked angles, but also in the sense of reinfusing the local music scene with a particularly enchanting Northern California-British psychedelic rock sensibility. Is that spirit still alive? After seeing how the West Coast techno scene has progressed in the past 20 years, do you have any thoughts or gripes?
Garth Life's too short for gripes. And I don't consider it a "West Coast techno scene," really. It's all just music. We've always played the best in disco, acid house, psych rock, and all points in between. It's the tempo that keeps things moving, and move it always will.
Jenö I wouldn't consider Wicked as even being a part of the techno scene. Our music was a lot broader than that, dominated more by psychedelic house and soulful disco grooves. But we definitely influenced the West Coast music scene, and that influence can still felt today in the style and sounds of the current crop of local DJ crews, from the Sunset parties to the hipster clubs currently delving into obscure house and disco-driven sounds.
Thomas I'll tell you this: I live in New York, and there's too much disco.
SFBG Any good stories from the early days of Burning Man?
Garth We were the first and only sound system there in 1995, and of the 5,000 or so people out on the playa, we had a few thousand of them all grooving out under the open skies: no marquees, no lightshow, just a kick ass 15K Turbosound system, right out of the box. During the height of my five-hour set on Saturday night, one naked freak (they never seem to be clothed) ran up and flipped the tables on top of me. There was thunder and lightning and a mad electrical hum until we got the gear up and running again. The crowd went apeshit — it's still the highlight of my DJ career!
Jenö I didn't make it the Wicked BM camps back then. But I did attend the last-ever Stonehenge Free Festival in the U.K. during summer solstice in 1984, which was the epiphany that drove me to want to create my own anarchic and free-spirited musical gatherings. Very similar to BM in style and substance — art and music-driven with countercultural ideals, but without the dust and ridiculously expensive admission of Black Rock City.
Thomas I didn't go because I didn't think I'd get served a proper cocktail. A foolish mistake on many levels.
SFBG Top five quintessential Wicked records?
Wicked DJ Garth & Eti, "20 Minutes of Disco Glory" — all the boys did excellent remixes of this seminal West Coast classic.
!!!, "Hello Is This Thing On? (Rub N Tug Remix)" — this incredible remix really sums up the Wicked sound, and they recorded it on a full moon!
Colm III, "High as a Mountain" — the title of this 1988 release says it all. Jenö brought it with him from England and played it at the first SF Full Moon party.
Marshall Jefferson, "Open Your Eyes" — deep vibes from the master of early Chicago house. More than just good music, it's a spiritual journey.
The Man Collective, "No Hassle From the Man" — anthem. It's rock and rave and soul and psych and passion. That's maybe what we're all about.
WICKED: 20 YEARS OF DISCO GLORY
Sat/23, 10 p.m.–7 a.m., $20 advance
119 Utah, SF
Facebook: Wicked Disco Glory